Tuesday, February 23, 2016

(Some) Assorted Thoughts on: The X-Files, season 10, episodes 5 and 6: "Babylon" and "My Struggle II" (2/15/16 and 2/22/16)

Had I gotten around to writing about "Babylon" before the latter edition of "My Struggle" had aired, I would be subjecting you to a far more negative blog post. Indulging in bloated production orchestrations and a sense of humor that's not just gimmicky and shallow, but just plain puzzling, "Babylon" found Chris Carter embracing his worst tendencies, all too painfully evoking memories of the insufferable inanity of, say, "The Post-Modern Prometheus", "Triangle", and "Improbable". Most will probably point to the insipid, totally unfunny "Mulder goes line-dancing while on mushrooms" abomination as the episode's worst sin. However, I was absolutely SHOCKED AND APPALLED that Carter shamelessly pulled a tired old trick (one that the show has done five or so times in its history) out of his that: that of introducing obvious, cutesy doppelgangers to Mulder and Scully, apparently intended to illicit irony and humor.

...actually, I'm leaning toward the episode's TRULY biggest, most unforgivable sin being the bill of goods Carter sold us with his promise at last year's San Diego Comic Con that "the Lone Gunmen will be back". Memo to Carter: Having their distorted, costumed visages appear for a couple seconds in Mulder's drug tri DOESN'T COUNT.


(...oh. All of my negativity toward "Babylon" came pouring out after all, didn't it?) As was always the case when contrasting Carter's bloated-budget "family entertainment" episodes with his cornerstone Mytharc episodes, "My Struggle II" is an all together different case. Having eagerly awaited it with baited breath these past four weeks, it exceeded my expectations, not just following through and delivering on what was set up in the first part, but -- as foreshadowed by the numerous stills from the show's early years that complemented Scully's voiceover intro-- actually bringing the Mytharc full circle, explicitly honing in on story threads harkening all the way back to the second season.

 The most exciting development was the significant screen time given to Cancer Man (who we were teased with at the very end of Part I... and whose appearances here -- as he deserves --  were given the show-stopping, shamelessly histrionic gravity of a veritable arch-villain for the ages, as he deserves) and a certain other returning cast member whose made-over role might in fact be considered controversial and seen as cheap by some. As likable as the character of Monica Reyes as played by Annabeth Gish may have been, she never really got to come into her own the way that Robert Patrick's John Doggett did.

Patrick fully assumed the position of male lead for nearly the entire duration of season 8 and 9; even when he did "have" to share the spotlight with Mulder, in the writing and the performing, it was a totally convincing meeting of wills. Reyes, on the other hand, was "brought in the backdoor" late in season 8 as a recurring guest character, forcibly presented in a one-note way as the quirky "New Age" agent with weird interests. When she was officially made lead for season 9, she was re-characterized as completely bland, presumably to fit some conception of mass appeal. And not only did she have to share space with Scully, her sensitivity and earnestness made her seem of junior status compared to Doggett, ostensibly her partner. And even Doggett got a shoehorned "personal" Mytharc, while Reyes had no backstory and, really, no character arc -- she was a purely functional investigative agent assigned to the X-Files. So while she may have had potential, fast-forward to 2016, and she's obviously going to be given a secondary role as long as Mulder and Scully are restored as the leads. Thus, her surprise return and the twist revealed with it gives this exhilarating tsunami an additional point of intrigue and "edginess"...and believe me, it already has A LOT going for it. 

Things escalated so rapidly, Scully was rushing to literally save the entire world, in a state of panic from an abrupt mass viral outbreak, before I'd even registered what was happening. The Mytharc has endured loads of criticism throughout the years for eternally setting the stage for an impending threat to all of humanity but never delivering. Honest to God, they actually did it, and even though it was contained in one mere episode (well, so far... read a bit further), they actually hit the "epic apocalyptic feature film" level that a "Mulder and Scully save the world" barnburner calls for!  

And it should have seemed all too much contain in 42 minutes, for in fact, we were left on an out-of-field (but very appropriate, given the series' iconography in the popular consciousness) cliffhanger that would be AGONY if it were never followed up on... but I'm happy with what preceded it, and all signs are that both Carter and Fox are more than ready and eager to continue, I'm not too worried. 

Oh, and two important points:

1. The Mulder and Scully "young doppelganger" characters returned, and they actually worked pretty well in a serious drama. Still, it's hard to get over how obvious it is not just that they've been brought on as bench-warmers in case Fox is willing to go ahead with Duchovny and/or Anderson, but that we've been through this before, stringing us along with Spender and Fowley in seasons five and six, and later Doggett and Reyes stepping up as full-fledged, official replacements. (Though both, even the under-realized Reyes are characters unto themselves and by no means clones of Mulder and Scully, nor their inversions as were Spender and Fowley, earning their own respectable places on the X-Files tapestry, ultimately, they were the product of a backup plan.) 

2. Remember last post, when I was speculating as to if they would ever be brave enough to take on the landmark story that would be William's return? Part of the cliffhanger was Scully realizing that the world depends on his being found... yup, they're going all in and giving him a singular spot in the Mytharc as the "Golden Child" immaculately conceived by Scully -- who it's implied is destined to be Central Player in the Grand Scheme of Things herself -- who is to the world's savior messiah. That's right, all in! :D

-- Ryan

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

(Some) Assorted Thoughts on: The X-Files, season 10, episode 4: "Home Again" (2/8/16)

As I write this, only about 20 minutes have passed since this mini-season's fifth episode, "Babylon", premiered. As I don't have cable (and even if I did, I would have gotten home from work halfway through it... as if such specs about my life matter to you...), I'll be watching it online shortly. But first, I'll get in my comments on last week's episode...

My litmus test for whether or not someone "gets" not just The X-Files but Ten Thirteen Productions' output as a whole is if they recognize how vital the creative team of Glen Morgan and James Wong -- if either was credited as writer, director, and/or producer, then nine times out of ten, the other was co-credited as same right there with him -- were to making The X-Files into The X-Files, in terms of its defining its main characters, jump-starting and expanding the Mytharc, and self-consciously playing with and pushing of the series genre-oriented stylistic narrative parameters. When the second season of Millennium was put entirely in their hands while Carter and other key Ten Thirteen personnel were working on the first X-Files feature film, the result was the single best season of any one Ten Thirteen show. 

But in the wake of said season, whatever the reason, Morgan and Wong together went their own separate way from Ten Thirteen. If in fact there was bad blood that had boiled over, I'm glad that matters have been reconciled so as to precipitate their participation in the X-Files revival of 2016. As said participation is major -- each has an entire episode to all to himself, single-handedly writing and direction -- it's nice to see that Carter indeed recognizes that the optimal way to do The X-Files is to do it with Morgan and Wong. 

Taken together, Wong's "Founder's Mutation" (covered in my previous post) and Morgan's "Home Again" are clear counterparts, and very complementary ones, at that, employing a similar narrative structure and embracing the very same theme and subject matter. Both function as a standalone Monster-of-the-Week, but woven into the proceedings are subplots (and I hesitate to call them that, as they arguably eclipse the doings of the ol' Monster-of-the-Week rigmarole... or at least I suspect they do for many longtime, die-hard fan) of the lasting -- and evidently worsening -- self-doubt and pained sense of absence and a certain incompleteness re: Scully having "given up" hers and Mulder's son, William, some 14 years ago so as to protect him from Super Soldiers by way of anonymity. In contrast to the dream-like, "What if...?"/"In another life..." sequences in Wong's episode, Morgan depicts her agonizing over the fear that not only was she forever rendered a horrible mother by her decision to put William up for adoption in and of itself, but all the worse, the possibility that knowing that he was rejected by his own mother has had a permanent, detrimental impact on William. The romanticized fantasies in "Founder's Mutation" of Scully walking William to his first day of school and Mulder showing William 2001 for the first time and joining him in launching a model were touching in a warm-and-fuzzy, pseudo-nostalgic way. But Scully's thoughts and emotions regarding her absentee son in "Home Again" hit us with -- and leave unresolved -- an unresolved existential bleakness.

"The Band-Aid Nose Man"

Lest I overlook the Monster-of-the-Week stuff, the case of "the Band-Aid Face Man" is of a nature polar opposite to "Founder's Mutation" scientific orientation (albeit a loose one at certain points -- though every idea incorporated into that episode had a basis in actual theory, research, and/or experiments, the flash-whiz-bang tricks performed by the unified psychic power of the Chimera siblings at "Founder's" climax was more Hollywood than anything). But based on when we saw him in action, by all appearances, the Band-Aid Nose Man seemed what could only be a supernatural entity, and when all was accounted for -- or at least, to the extent that anything was accounted for -- the scrappy artist living "the fringe" who appears to have manifested Bandy did so through a process of pure magic.

Even taking into the fact that we're dealing with a series whose history has included a man who can stretch and contort himself like Plastic Man (or Ralph Dibny, ha!) or Gumby and one of its leads spending an episode trapped in an "uprooted" building suspended at the heart of a maelstrom/tornado-like void of an alternate dimension, nothing here should in theory be testing our suspense of disbelief... perhaps it's the contrast with the grounded, wholly realistic scenes in which Scully sits at her dying mother's side and those in which she contends with the very mundane legal nitty-gritty of late changes to her mother's will that Scully was unaware of. 

Still, Morgan plays the Band-Aid Nose Man story just right: using a lot of close-angle shots and quick cuts -- the recurring motif that is the rear, up-angle perspective of a silhouetted Bandy's uncannily tall figure ripping apart his victims with sharp, outward right-angle thrusts of his arms are instantly iconic (even though the gore is in silhouette, because of said gore, I've chosen not to use screen shots of these particular visuals, are distinguishing as they are) -- sees to it that the murders, though played out in full before our eyes, such as they are, remain vague and elusive, and that we are in fact left not with not a full accounting but a suggested, yet ultimately un-nail-downable, explanation/fill-in-the-blanks backstory gleaned and inferred from what the "artist" disclosed is in fact a classic X-Files motif.

Mulder stands at Scully's side during her mother's final moments... 
in which painfully lingering doubts and potentially unanswerable questions 
re: their son are brought to the fore.

The pathos of Scully being faced with her mother's death evokes early episode in which she also weathered personal and familial crises of mortality, such as the first season's "Beyond the Sea" or the second's "One Breath" (which capped a multi-episode arc based around Scully's "abduction", alien or otherwise). NOT coincidentally, "Beyond the Sea" and "One Breath" were both Morgan-Wong episodes... and given the great extent to which this episode captures the spirit, characterizations, and themes of those episodes (in fact making overt references to the "One Breath" era, even jarringly using clips of  both a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Duchovny and Anderson!), at certain points, it was as surreal to watch this episode as it was to find one's self being sensorily-impressioned by the series original theme song/title sequence the first time watching "My Struggle". Until now, the 2016 X-Files' connection to the franchise's past had seemed loose, but here, Morgan not only brought things near-full-circle, but came as close as probably anyone ever can or will come to not merely rehashing or imitating those early days, but realizing a living, breathing, organic, speculative pseudo-real-time jumping-to-the-present continuation of that work. (Not an update, so much as a bringing-up-to-date.)

I would think that Mulder and Scully actually being reunited with William has to be in the cards... my instincts tell me not in the remaining two episodes of this current "season" (well, as much of the world has now seen "Babylon", which has now been sitting on my laptop waiting for me for over two hours, in truth, only one episode remains), but in the event that Fox orders more episodes -- which by all indications, all concerned parties very much want to happen; it's just a matter of making negotiations with the principles -- they could hardly put it off for long. They've handled the matter delicately and admirably in these recent episodes, so much so that one can't help but think that it might be best if they never take the plunge and attempt Star Wars-esque Epochal Event that the prospect seems to self-demand...

And so, "Babylon" and on. I burn with anticipation for "My Struggle II" next week, but I'm very curious to see what else Carter has offered with his return to the writer's-and-director's chair for tonight's episode... I'll get back to you on it soon!

-- Ryan

Saturday, February 6, 2016

New(!!!) X-Files episodes: (some) assorted thoughts

Though I haven't posted since New Year's Eve, I'm almost (note the "almost") okay with that fact, for something shifted in my brain during the course of this past month: between my full-time job and my "recovery" hours between shifts and on the weekend, to expect myself to write exhaustive reviews all of the time is unreasonable, running contrary to my "natural" (as if) day-to-day living rhythm.

Honestly, at this point, I'm not sure what the future of this blog is going to look like. Nonetheless, especially as we're already halfway through the X-Files revival's six-episode run, I can't let it go without posting about it.

It's been a while, so they're not wielding
those badges with confidence again yet...

Here, I now offer my take on the three new episodes that have aired to date:

"My Struggle" (1/24/16)

Like every season past, the series' tenth (it seems that's what these six episodes are officially considered) opens with a sweeping, tumultuous, big-in-scale-and-scope Mytharc episode... except virtually none of the Mytharc threads left hanging at the end the (I guess former) series finale, "The Truth", are addressed. Obviously written with casual and new viewers in mind, all you really have to know is that since the late '40's, UFO sightings have persisted throughout the U.S., almost as though the show is using the actual history of ufology as its backstory and starting anew from there.

Honestly, as much of a continuity freak as I am, I didn't mind the unexplained absence of Super Soldiers or the question of why Skinner still has his job after having aided in Mulder's escape from death row in "The Truth". (Though these fumblings aren't actually new; in the 2008 film I Want to Believe, Mulder's fugitive status was casually, inextricably written off, and at the film's climax, Skinner's surprise appearance found him without explanation still FBI Assistant Director)

Rather, I was riveted...
  •  ...right from Mulder's  clarion call-like voiceover intro -- which was accompanied by a montage of striking images of UFO sightings, a number of which appeared to have integrated CGI UFOs into of proper live-action footage of actual landscapes and cityscape, making the prevalence of such events far more realistic and imminent-seeming than the original series ever had...
  • ...to the strained, angst-ridden reunion of Mulder and Scully...
  • ...by the intrigue introduced with Internet conspiracy talk show host Tad O'Malley seeking out Mulder as an ally...
  • ...and then how, having led Mulder and Scully (and us) along by a dangling carrot for two-thirds of the episodes, O'Malley lays down all his cards and outlines the global elite's bleak, dystopian, Hell-on-Earth plans that he professes to have uncovered(*)...
  • (*) Citing 9/11 used as an excuse for endless war abroad and attacks on civil liberties like the Patriot Act and the NDAA; Big Pharma; transnational food corporations like Monsanto that have a stranglehold on a major fraction of the market but questionable regard for public health; and infinitesimal inflation and Too-Big-To-Fail bailouts, this wasn't sci-fi so much as a regurgitation of the news.
  • ...clear through to the ground-pulled-out-from-under-us, brick-to-the-head last-minute turn of events bringing about an abrupt cliffhanger: Mulder and Scully discovering the likely-ordered-from-on-high shutdown of O'Malley's website; jackbooted storm troopers raiding and destroying the hangar housing a secret project utilizing alien technology, unflinchingly mowing down with their machine guns every last one of the the earnest, noble, world-class scientists working there whom we'd met earlier; and the stark dramatization of the  cold-blooded apparent murder (via a beam of light directed at her from a UFO, ensuring as over-the-top bombastic cliffhanger as possible) of O'Malley's prospective key witness, a completely sweet, endearing, innocent young woman named Sveta, milking every last drop of the audience's sympathy for her so as to leave them distressed and clamoring for follow-up and resolution.
 Gee, I have NO idea who Tad O'Malley 
could be based on... do you? 

Mulder and a reluctant Scully
convene with O'Malley and Sveta.


"Founder's Mutation" (1/25/16)

 We begin with a guy suffering a splitting headache...

...and somehow end with bio-engineered siblings sharing 
some sort of psychic link meeting for the first time.

It was frustrating to know that the second episode wouldn't be following up on the first... but then, that's exactly how it always was, right? An exemplary Monster-of-the-Week entry, from the nature of the case (it starts off grisly, but it winds up somewhere more wondrous), the federal agent procedural angle, and the scientific basis. It was charming to see Mulder and Scully present their FBI badges to interviewees for the fist time in over 15 years, wrangle with uncooperative witnesses, and create a bureaucratic tiff with another federal agency, the Department of Defense.

Skinner's wry "Welcome back, agents" as he hands the newly reinstated Mulder and Scully their badges just after an unfriendly visit from a terse DoD representative (who doesn't get off without being subjected to some Mulder-brand sarcasm, of course) was one of the most priceless parts of the episode.

"If we don't make eye contact wit him, maybe he'll start to think he's not real."

And James Wong, one-half of the James Wong-Glen Morgan duo who wrote some of the original series' best episodes, should certainly get his due for this episode's solid, tight writing and directing. The dream/alternate reality sequences showing Mulder and Scully's son, William, growing up with them in a happy domestic household were not just beautifully shot, but very touching.

In another life....

"Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" (2/1/16)

If you know what the phrase "a Darin Morgan episode" portends 
and are told that this image is, in fact, from a Darin Morgan episode... 
it makes perfect sense.

Darin Morgan, the writer of classics like "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (and certain lesser known but arguably even more brilliant second-season Millennium episodes), triumphantly returns with his trademark mix of self-parody, silliness, and introverted, existential reflective observations about how perplexing so many aspects of everyday life are, and how that goes largely unnoticed and taken for granted. If you've ever felt like you're playing someone other than yourself in your own life, you'll surely appreciate the way Morgan turns the show's whole Monster-of-the-Week concept of what a "monster" is on its head.

-- Ryan